I would like to share an interesting analysis on the propaganda in Cuba and the former Soviet Union. The author, Jessie Zechnowitz, discusses how the propaganda can be related to the political conditions -and the censorship- of a given specific period.
She states: “I would like to consider the role of the artist in these two communist contexts and to discuss how creative expression in political forums can rise to the occasion, and how its thrust can be diminished if held too tightly. The propaganda poster is an excellent barometer for measuring the political conditions of any country. This art form distills the wishes of a government, and in so doing, it often betrays what it is that a state is actually lacking. First, I will discuss the conditions for poster-making in Cuba, and then consider the same question from a Soviet perspective. The time period I am focusing on is 1959-1989, the years in which Cuban-Soviet relations were strongest.”
The illustration that you can see here is the cover of the book La mujer impenetrable by Reynaldo González, (Ediciones Matanzas, 2010) and its title is “Emancipated woman – build up socialism!”. It was made in 1926 by Adolf Iosifovich Strakhov Braslavskij (1896-1979).
What interests me, and that’s why I bring these two pieces together -besides of course the analysis provided by Zechnowitz- is how after the end of the Soviet Union those images were reappropriated, and the (new) Cuban artists established a new relationship between signifier and signified. By then the socialist equilibrium was unstable, and the artist was able to deconstruct the past through new artistic meanings for the same signifiers. Only through such deconstruction and demystification it is possible to establish a healthy and conscious relationship with the past.
If we agree with Susan Sontag’s article “Posters: Advertisement, Art, Political Artifact, Commodity” (1970) –quoted by Zechnowitz-, when she says: “the purpose of the political poster in Cuba is […] to raise and complicate consciousness–the highest aim of the revolution itself”, we can then understand the turnaround experienced by the artistic graphic expressions in Cuba after the irreversible rupture between the ideology of the state and the individual.
By the nineties, it was impossible for the government in Cuba to keep the emphasis in promoting the born of the “new man”. Its main concern was to keep the power and avoid the end of the socialist regime as it had happened in the former socialist bloc.
The artist, on the other hand, was for the first time mostly left on its own. And although censorship still existed (and exists), the artist had to negotiate its place of enunciation: who he needs to respond: the government’s ideology or the individual’s concern and daily life’s struggle to survive? It is interesting that in this context, some of the imagery that arises is related to the Soviet past and its referents. I explain this by arguing that all those years of profound Soviet influence in Cuba had an impact on the called Soviet-Cuban sentimental community and by the end of the Soviet Union that community was in conditions to reassign new meanings to the Soviet remains, including, of course, the art of propaganda.
You can find the link to the post by Jessie Zechnowitz, here: Persuasion